Welfare reform is one of the great victories in recent times over relentlessly advancing government. But Arizona has lagged behind other states in getting welfare recipients into jobs. We need strong leaders to ensure Arizona doesn’t fall into the welfare trap again.
The states responded enthusiastically to the 1996 federal welfare reform bill that essentially turned welfare over to the states. States began designing programs based on the assumption that people are better off when they work. Welfare was no longer open-ended. Time limits applied and jobs were required. Between 1995 and 2004, states reduced welfare rolls by an average of 60 percent and the proportion of children living in poverty fell by one-third.
In Arizona though, our caseload reduction was only 30 percent. We haven’t done as well as other states in changing the welfare culture to an employment assistance culture. And it may come back to bite us because our population of undereducated, unskilled persons is certain to grow.
Our missing ingredient has been leadership at the top. The leading states in welfare reform have invariably had visionary, enthusiastic governors. Arizona’s recent governors haven’t really been on board. This issue is too important to remain under the radar.
Tom Patterson is a retired emergency room physician and former state senator and Chairman of the Goldwater Institute. A longer version of this article appeared in the East Valley Tribune.